The fleishig whirligig
HistoryKosher conundrum

The fleishig whirligig

Between the mid-1940s and the early 1960s, a persistent group of Orthodox men tried three times to create a kosher meat restaurant in Pittsburgh.

Photograph from the Feb. 21, 1964, edition of the Jewish Chronicle, showing the aftermath of the fire that damaged The Kosher Restaurant. (Courtesy: Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project)
Photograph from the Feb. 21, 1964, edition of the Jewish Chronicle, showing the aftermath of the fire that damaged The Kosher Restaurant. (Courtesy: Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project)

Paul and Grete Freuthal were among the many Jews who settled in Western Pennsylvania in the 1930s, fleeing Nazi persecution in Central Europe. They became leaders in the local Friendship Club and were active at New Light Congregation. The social hall of New Light’s Beechwood Boulevard synagogue was named in their honor.

Grete quickly found work as a seamstress, but Paul encountered problem after problem. “For instance, I remember I once applied for a job in Bloomfield somewhere in a laundry, and the job was to count the dirty laundry which the truck brought in,” he said in a 1976 oral history with the Ethnic Fraternal Organizations Oral History Project Collection. “I applied. ‘Are you a citizen?’ The first question. So I didn’t get the job.”

Sometime in early 1945, Fruethal partnered with a local named Henry Feld on a new restaurant at 2113 Murray Ave. in Squirrel Hill. They called it F & F Delicatessen.

Recalling the sequence of events some 30 years later, Freuthal told the interviewer, “And about after two years, my partner left and I bought him out. And then I was approached by the rabbis here to make it strictly kosher. And I agreed. And that was the beginning of my end because I lost almost all my money and I had to close in ‘49.”

The historic record inverts his chronology. F&F Delicatessen announced its grand opening in the American Jewish Outlook on Feb. 23, 1945. A few weeks later, in mid-March, the Rabbinical Council of Pittsburgh and the local Vaad Hakashrus (Board of Kosher Supervision) announced they were certifying F&F Delicatessen as “strictly kosher,” making it likely the first restaurant in Squirrel Hill to receive this designation.

Advertisement for F&F Delicatessen, sponsored by “several community leaders,” in the April 13, 1945, edition of the local American Jewish Outlook, announcing the kosher certification of the restaurant and listing menu items. (Courtesy: Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project)
It was the capstone of a broader campaign to increase the religious observance of the Squirrel Hill business district. Throughout early weeks of 1945, the Rabbinical Council went up and down Murray Avenue, actively encouraging Jewish business owners to close for Shabbat. The appeal briefly worked.

For the first two weeks of March 1945, at least three-dozen Jewish-owned businesses voluntarily closed from Friday night through Saturday night. Participating were 14 grocers and fruit vendors and 18 other businesses, including 10 butcher shops, a tailor, a book store and a hardware store.

It’s hard to tell how long these Squirrel Hill businesses observed the Sabbath schedule, but it doesn’t appear to have been long. And available documentation suggests F&F Delicatessen may have maintained its kosher certification for only a few months.

Feld moved to Chile around 1948. Freuthal closed the delicatessen sometime after. Going kosher may have challenged his business but doesn’t appear to have ended it.

The way he recalled the sequence of events, decades later, likely reflects his frustration at entering the choppy waters of the kosher marketplace, which has overturned many local entrepreneurs despite a strong communal yearning for their product.

It is hard to run a restaurant, even harder to run a kosher restaurant, harder still to run a fleishig (meat) kosher restaurant, and beyond hard to make it work in Pittsburgh.

Working alongside the Rabbinical Council on the 1945 campaign was a “committee of laymen.” It included Abe Dunn, Max Engelberg, J. D. Golding, Jack Goldman, Leon Gottlieb, Asher Isaacs and J. Siegel. They were all leaders in the local Orthodox community, representing different synagogues throughout Squirrel Hill. Dunn was an early support of Yeshiva Schools. Isaacs was the editor of the American Jewish Outlook and an important lay leader at Shaare Torah Congregation. Engelberg was a leader at Poale Zedeck Congregation and an early supporter of Hillel Academy.

In the two years since the certification of F&F Delicatessen in 1945, there had been a burst of activity within the Orthodox community of Squirrel Hill. Shaare Torah, Shaare Zedeck and Shaaray Tefilah began relocating from the Hill District. Young Peoples Synagogue opened at the Hebrew Institute. Hillel Academy was chartered.

A kosher restaurant was seen as a key piece of communal infrastructure, just like the day schools, the synagogues and the new mikvah established in Oakland in 1942.

The committee reconvened in April 1947 to incorporate a new business called Kosher Catering Inc. The charter listed two new names: Max Balsam and Max Herrup.

Aside from the required public notice of its incorporation printed in the Post-Gazette, Kosher Catering Inc. made no public announcements until June 17, 1949. A small advertisement in that issue of the Jewish Criterion read, “We are about to establish a strictly kosher restaurant in Pittsburgh and are seeking an experienced restaurant operator, one who knows all details of a restaurant and can assume full charge.”

A little later that summer, Kosher Catering Inc. issued a press release. A small group of “public-spirited citizens” would soon be opening a kosher restaurant at 23 Graeme St., just off Market Square downtown. The tri-state area around Pittsburgh was “one of the very few large cities which had not had such service” and had “regularly missed out on national conferences and conventions by Jewish organizations as a result.”

The group now included four more men: Abe Banchek, Morris Mazer, Harry Morris and Morris Schwartz. An associated rabbinic council included all the leading Orthodox and Conservative rabbis in Pittsburgh and nearby Homestead at the time.

Kosher Catering Inc. struggled to raise enough funds to open. The company announced a $50,000 stock offer in September 1949 and listed 35 initial stockholders. The local chapter of Hapoel Hamizrachi even purchased some shares. Over the next few months, though, the project stalled. A proposed Nov. 15 opening date came and went without any news. 23 Graeme St. opened in March 1950 as Sammy’s Steak House.

The dream of a kosher restaurant went dormant in the 1950s, although kosher catering became more prominent throughout the city. Webster Hall Hotel in Oakland and the Penn-Shady Hotel in East Liberty both advertised kosher kitchens for big gatherings.

Abe Dunn revived the idea of a kosher restaurant in late 1962 when he purchased the former Cappy’s Restaurant at 1718 Murray Ave. He announced his new venture with a naming contest in the Jewish Criterion. The contest failed to ignite a wellspring of local creativity. The restaurant opened a week later under the name “The Kosher Restaurant.”

Although billed as “the only Kosher Restaurant in the Tri-State Area” and one of the few nationally, the Kosher Restaurant acted more like a community service initiative than a business. Advertisements describe the restaurant as an “achievement” benefiting “the entire community.” It even created a sponsorship program in early 1963 to improve cash flow. You could buy $25, $50, or $100 bonds to be redeemed for meals over time.

The Kosher Restaurant closed in February 1964, after a fire in a neighboring building damaged several properties along the block. Dunn announced plans to reopen soon after Passover but ultimately stayed closed. The Weiss family opened its Tel Aviv Self Service Kosher Meat Market at 1718 Murray the following year, and the two-decade campaign to develop a kosher restaurant as a communal institution came to an end. PJC

Eric Lidji is the director of the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center and can be reached at or 412-454-6406.

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